Calgary's favourite son has been rumoured to return to the former World Wrestling Federation
Bret Hart, former multi-time wrestling champion.
The WWE has had a missing void within the company since 1997. It was during the better part of the 90's that a Canadian wrestler wearing pink and black become the biggest star in the company and was known for having great match after great match on a nightly basis, and it now appears that amid the cloud of controversy that's surrounded both him and the company he worked the majority of his career will begin anew.
During the controversial 1990's, the mainstream appeal of professional wresting was beginning to wear. The wrestling fan base was starting to shrink, but there was one superstar who had a rather large following in dismal times, and that star was Bret "The Hitman" Hart.
Bret Hart was born into a wrestling family in Calgary, Alberta, Canada to Stu and Helen Hart. Stu and Helen had 12 children, eight boys and four girls. All eight boys become involved in wrestling and all four girls married wrestlers.
Stu Hart ran his own wrestling promotion from the late 1940's until the 1980's called Stampede wrestling. All of his sons were involved in the family business and were well known in Alberta, Montana, and across Canada.
Business was doing well, but the cost to run the territory was extremely high. An offer was extended to Stu Hart from Vince McMahon to sell his territory and television rights, as well as sign Stampede Wrestling's biggest stars. Bret Hart was the first wrestler to head to New York City and was later followed by brother-in-laws Jim Neidhart, Davey Boy Smith, and the Dynamite Kid.
Bret Hart toiled for awhile as an underused talent, until fate stepped in as he and Neidhart become the tag team known as the Hart Foundation. Successful, Hart and Neidhart became two time tag team champions and were then disbanded as it was seen that Hart was a future singles superstar.
It was then that Hart become a two time Intercontinental Champion a five time WWF (WWE) Champion. Hart was on top of the world it was well known that he had a large following in the United States, but an even bigger following in Canada and was possibly the biggest international draw in company history. (Fans in Germany in particular kicked down barricades to get to the beloved star)
However, with all the triumph, tragedy was beginning to set in.
Hart was being sought after by rival World Championship Wrestling (WCW), being offered more money than any wrestler at the time was making. (Hulk Hogan being the exception) Hart toiled with the contract, but then resigned with Vince McMahon for far less money over an extended period of time. With all the doubt seemingly behind, backstage issues began to arise.
A real-life feud with wrestler Shawn Michaels was the talk of the business at that time. Michaels (a controversial figure with the locker room already), began using real life remarks about Hart and his family during in-characters interviews on live television. Both wrestlers were already leery of one another due to the fallout from Wrestlemania XXII, where Hart dropped the World Wrestling Federation to Michaels. Hart claimed during the match that Michaels was purposely stiffing him (hitting him for real). As well, a planned rematch for the championship never transpired as Michaels forfeited the title (a trait he had become known for at that time), due to an apparent knee injury. (The injury was questioned by the wrestling community for its validity and still is today)
All attempts to mend fences between the two of them were unsuccessful as Michaels then continued the assault on live television, implying that Hart was having a real life affair with wrestling valet Sunny. Infuriated, Hart confronted Michaels about the comments and a backstage brawl broke out. This ended another planned one-on-one match-up for the King of the Ring Pay-Per-View that year between the two.
Hart, who at this time was the top heel (bad guy) in the company due to an anti-American storyline, was still being courted by WCW. Eric Bischoff (the man responsible for many big WCW signings) had met with Hart previously and had left an offer on the table to consider. Hart was still interested in remaining with the WWF, but was now concerned with the direction of both his character and the direction the company as a whole was taking.
Hart become the WWF Champion for a fifth time in 1997, but the show was no longer centered on the anti-American storyline with him and his family members. It was now based on a new storyline with Shawn Michaels and Triple H, as they were concerned with more adult content being shown on television.
The business was now no longer a family event, as it was a more mature product and disturbing for Hart. He continued on, but McMahon fired the next shot and told him he would have to veto his contract due to financial difficulties the company was suffering. With a contract expiring in a couple months time, McMahon suggested to Hart that he should get in touch with WCW to see if the deal is still on the table.
Hart then took the deal with WCW at the suggestion of McMahon and would be on his way to WCW in a couple of months. Hart had a structured contract that gave him creative control during the last 30 days of his contract, so no decisions could be made without approval. McMahon suggested that Hart lose the title to Michaels at the 1997 Survivor Series Pay-Per-View. Hart refused to do so, due to an apparent conversation with Michaels, where Hart said he would have no issues if asked to lose to Michaels and Michaels replied that he would never do the same to him.
Hart suggested that he would win the Survivor Series match in Montreal and give up the title the next night and leave on a high note. Everything was agreed upon, until the actual match took place.
During the course of the match, McMahon appeared to change the match ending on-the-fly and had the bell rung to make it appear that Hart lost the championship to Michaels. The live crowd was in shock. (Hart was seen as a Canadian hero and this was an apparent slap in the face to them. As well, the double-cross was reportedly in the works for awhile) Hart responded by spitting in the face of McMahon and smashing television monitors and other equipment. Backstage become a riot zone as McMahon was locked up in an office to avoid backlash from many of the wrestlers. He eventually came into the locker room and tried to talk to Hart, but Hart ordered him to be gone from the locker room while he was going to shower or there would be consequences. McMahon didn't leave and when Hart came back he knocked Vince McMahon out cold with a punch to the jaw.
Bret went onto WCW, but was held off television longer than expected and was never utilized to the fullest by the company as he had been with the World Wrestling Federation. McMahon then went on to create a character out of the "Montreal Screwjob" that saw him appear on television as a crooked promoter. This was the beginning of another boom period in professional wrestling as he became the perfect foil for wrestling's biggest superstar in Stone Cold Steve Austin.
The feud with McMahon continued for the next couple years and then it got even more intense as Bret's younger brother Owen Hart died in an accident that saw him fall from the ceiling of the Keil Center in St. Louis, Missouri. McMahon was facing a lawsuit from Owen Hart's widow Martha, and Bret was often questioned within the media about the lawsuit. The funeral was also marred in controversy as McMahon reportedly told Hart he couldn't wait to see him back in his company.
Bret took a hiatus from wrestling during this period and then later returned to continue his career. He became the WCW World Champion and was finally beginning to be used at a higher level in WCW. This came to an abrupt halt as Hart's career came to an end in 2000 after the affects of a vicious (but accidental) stiff kick to the head by Bill Goldberg caused a serious concussion. Hart's career was now over and shortly thereafter his contract was terminated by WCW and he retired from the business.
In 2002, it just got worse for Hart as he suffered a stroke after falling off his bicycle without wearing a helmet, hitting his head on a bike path. He eventually recovered began making wrestling related appearances all over the world for independent promotions.
Hart slowly began to make amends with Vince McMahon and worked together to release a DVD chronicling his storied career. Both McMahon and Hart stood behind their decisions that led to their real-life feud, and Hart refused to pull punches about Shawn Michaels as well. (It was rumoured the DVD was originally suppose to portray Hart in a negative light) The DVD was released in 2005.
Hart then released an autobiography in 2007, chronicling his life in professional wrestling from his early life in the 1950's until the present day. He pulls no punches in the book either, standing behind his career and life decisions.
So, with a twelve year absence from WWE, estranged relationships with both Vince McMahon and Shawn Michaels, interest couldn't be higher for a rumoured return to Monday Night Raw on January 4th. (Ironically the same day Hulk Hogan will be appearing on a live TNA show) Some believe the return is about Bret saying goodbye to his fan base, some believe it's to help the new generation of Harts who are in WWE, and then there are those who believe it's about ego. Whatever the case may be, there is no denying how impact this signing truly is.
The Hitman returning may be the biggest news story in professional wrestling in several years, but it remains to be seen if his legions of fans will return to the business they loved when he does.